Sunday 18 February 2018

Is there anything greater than a lifetime of friendship?

I had bit of a moment back in 2012. Standing at the back of the little upstairs bar in the Róisín Dubh, I was listening to Tuam songwriter Seamus Ruttledge explain that this charity gig had been organised by Conor ‘Monty’ Montague, his old friend from way back in the early 90s.

Way back?

But I was there, then, meeting them both. Writing columns under noms de plumes Freebase Kevin, Swami ben Carpenter and Pink O’Bum, I was part of Seamus’s freebie rag, which was locked in a minor battle with another Galway newspaper.

Here were these local boys saying they had been friends forever and I, a mere blow-in, had been part of it too, 20 years before.

Truly, I am a man blessed by friendship. To my English heart, these good men were part of a group I considered to be new friends.

I had not grown up with them. I had not shared my life with them from the age of 13 onwards, as I have with my friends from London. 

A few are now scattered around the globe, but the vast majority of these lifetime friends still live in England’s capital, at addresses that have not changed, with telephone numbers that I know off by heart, engraved on my cerebellum during crazier years, when all was in flux.

A truly amazing bunch of people, now many parents and grandparents, we all live separate lives, but still keep in touch and meet up every now and then, for either gentle visits or lairy reunions.

Even better, when we see each other or even speak on the phone, there is no question of having to explain yourself in any way. We know each other far too well to need preambles.

Alongside our families we are the foundation stones that support each others’ lives, offering profound and unique comfort, love and joy throughout the entirety of our collective lives.

Best of all, we know that the rest are there. As a man living a blow-in existence, far from family, the knowledge of their presence gives me great comfort. 

 A Good Friday gathering circa 1980 something... I wondered where the Guru was, until I spotted the red shoes on the left, and the fact that everyone
is listening to someone...!

Yet I've been blessed all over again, by the friends I’ve made beyond England. 

Online I’m now able to keep in touch with  friends that I made working at the University of San Francisco, while several of my Australian mates seem ever eager to share England’s Ashes defeats with me. Old friends from my youth work days stay in touch on Facebook and yes, new relationships are rarely yet sometimes spawned in my comments boxes.

Visits and real contact are rare and special, but the best friends to have today are the ones on your doorstep, and there again I have been exceptionally lucky.

A wave of English blow-ins swept into Galway during those early 90s. I washed up in a tiny house in Salthill, crammed under low ceilings and mouldy crumbling walls with two other Englishmen, large both physically and in personality, while next door was a 24 hour Party House of mayhem and madness.

If you didn't want to meet an Irish person you really didn’t have to, but I hadn’t hitched from Malaga to Galway to hang out with a crusty from Surrey. 

 Check out your scribbler's magnificent 1970s Jewfro!

Thankfully one night Blitz approached me in the Jug O’Punch and introduced me to The Body, while back in their gaff Whispering Blue had just returned from Berlin and was kipping on the sofa.

Only a few minutes was needed in town with any of those lads to understand that life here in Galway was unlike anywhere I’d ever lived. I’d seen 4 continents, where in small rural communities everyone knew each other, while in cities nobody did, because that’s how you survived.

Yet here was a city where everyone knew everyone They had grown up together, lived amongst each other, and Howyas flew constantly in all directions.

Even though the lads could not have done one single thing to make me feel more welcome, I felt constantly then - and now - a blow in.

Believe me, sometimes that is no bad thing, yet at others so strange. I feel neither less nor worse in any way, simply aware that, just as I have my lifelong friends back in London, Galwegians have their lifetimes living around them.

Why this now? Well one afternoon a few weeks ago I was sitting outside Neactains with two friends, both of whom worked behind the bar of an Tobar back in 1992.

One of them I know very well, while the other I admire and and respect. As they sat and swapped stories I gave up trying to know who was that and when did they do what, as the boys were off in a time and place of their own.

It is genuinely lovely to listen as two people share a myriad of lost laughs together. I experience it often when with my Galway brethren. It reinforces my feeling of foreignness in no bad way.

I have my own crew who know me that well, and in between I have all the other new friends, melded into my life during decades in Ireland.

Old housemates, firm and forever; ex-colleagues and bosses now much easier to chill with as peers; the triumvirate brotherhood with Angel and Yoda; a good chunk of a village in North Mayo; tea and buns with Dalooney and a couple of hedonistic reprobates in Clifden who I love dearly, and of course the Snapper, my most loyal and most loved friend.

I’ll always be a blow-in, and that’s just fine, because your old friends are like mine in London.

Fortified by them, I’m privileged to be able to say I’ve known my Galwegian friends for 25 years.

How lucky am I, to consider them my new friends?

©Charlie Adley


Allan said...

The photos here are brilliant. I don't know if I'd be able to find a single pic from my early days in Galway.

Charlie Adley said...

Cheers Allan. I had a bee in my bonnet when I was young about the way poeple only photographed their holidays and Christmases - so I made an effort to take pics of everyday life. I've loads of snaps like these above.